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Short Shifts

Coyotes add 7-year-old kid as coach for Hockey Fights Cancer night

Bruce Frye, being treated for leukemia, gets an up-close look at life in NHL

by Dan O'Leary @DanOLeary25 / NHL.com Staff Writer

Trips to Phoenix for the Frye family usually involve long hours in the hospital and needles. But Saturday's trip was a little different.

It involved joking around with hockey players and nerf guns.

Bruce Frye, a 7-year-old who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia around his fifth birthday, was signed as a special assistant coach for the Arizona Coyotes during their game against the Carolina Hurricanes as part of the team's Hockey Fights Cancer night.

And in his new role, Frye was not shy.

"I drew up plans, threw pucks out on the ice. I had half of the team against the other half zig zagging through pucks," the little coach told NHL.com of the responsibilities given to him by head coach Rick Tocchet at practice.

Tweet from @ArizonaCoyotes: A pregame message from Coach Bruce. #YotesFightCancer pic.twitter.com/qExQ8H17qb

Bruce's family [father Ryan, mother Christine and sister Rease] lives in Yuma, but usually makes the three-hour drive to Phoenix so Bruce can get treatment. Not this time.

"It's been amazing," Christine Frye told NHL.com. "Every time we come up here it's associated with chemo and it's not fun. We try to do fun things afterwards and I got to say 'we're going up and there's no chemo, we're not going to the clinic, we're just going up for fun.' It's one thing to go to a game but to be able to hang out with the players. And for them so show such a genuine interest, it's just been amazing."

Tweet from @ArizonaCoyotes: Our new Assistant Coach Bruce is very popular with the team.#YotesFightCancer pic.twitter.com/04MIY0htrG

"I couldn't replicate this experience for him. And the fact that we can all do this as a family - it's awesome they were able to include not just him but his sister too," Ryan Frye told NHL.com. "A very humbling experience."

In addition to watching the game and getting a bunch of take home souvenirs, he got to shoot some nerf guns in the tunnels before the game.

But strictly speaking as a coach, Bruce developed a great rapport with Coyotes forward Zac Rinaldo.

"He's funny!" Bruce said.

But Antti Raanta, who stopped for a picture with the family and handed over his stick from the practice Bruce coached, is also a big favorite.

"Bruce loves goalies," Christine said.

Tweet from @ArizonaCoyotes: Meet our newest Assistant Coach.We think he's a keeper. pic.twitter.com/Fzy8HHyJZ0

During one of his first hospital stays, Bruce was visited by Howler, the team's mascot, and some members of the Paw Patrol, the Coyotes ice team.

"I have a picture. It's Bruce in the hospital, in a hospital bed, totally bald with two of the cheerleaders and they gave him a jersey," Christine Frye said. "It was so special for him that now he's a lifelong fan.

"There's that then of course there's the movie The Mighty Ducks. So that's all of Bruce's coaching skills right there," she said.

Bruce's outlook is good. His mother says that most of the difficult part of his treatment is behind them and he is back at his school, Desert Mesa Elementary, in Yuma. While the family still has a battle ahead, for now, things are looking good.

It would probably be an understatement to say Bruce enjoyed this trip to Phoenix much more than others, especially after seeing a Coyotes shootout victory. No needles or cold hospital floors this time, but a whole lot of sticks and ice.

(Real-time correspondent Jake Nesbitt contributed to this story.)

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